Christine’s (Cincinnati)

        

We stuck around after class, enjoying some conversation while I relaxed with a sugar free latte from the Hilltop. We even met a fellow seminary student that revealed his desire to be a part of the solution for the rest of his life as he pursues a degree in social justice. When we left, we decided to take the slow road to the interstate. Glenway was congested, but dinner was waiting for us somewhere between the U and the interstate. The decision finally came as we were approaching the final stretch before dropping down the hill to I-74. Watch out Chinese buffet, because you are going to need to buy some more chicken. I got out of the car to check and see if they were open, because it looked a little dark inside, and the open signs were not illuminated. The sign on the door informed me that they were closed on Mondays.

The scene was rather sad: a large man walking away from the front door of a buffet dragging his spirit in the asphalt, dejected and hungry. It just wasn’t right. As we prepared to exit the shopping area, I saw the old Pizza Hut restaurant that had been re-purposed. The top section of the building proclaimed its new name as Christine’s, and I suggested that we could give it a shot. We returned turned to the strip mall via the next entrance and parked.  The restaurant was bustling with activity, and as we waited to be seated I noticed two flags in a picture on the ceiling. I knew one of them. I pulled out the old iPhone and googled some key words until I found the flag. It was the flag of the Philippines. I got really excited, and could not wait to see the menu, and it did not disappoint.  The menu was complete with American, Mexican and Philippine dishes. There was everything from all you can eat ribs to fajitas and pancit, but the appetizers were half-price for a few more minutes. I ordered the pork bbq skewers and Jerry orders the Philippino egg rolls. We ordered them at 1753, and had them by 1758. The place was packed, and I have no idea how they were able to serve them so fast. Both appetizers were top shelf amazing. The sauces were  succulent and we knew that return visits were already in the cards.

Our waitress was very attentive, and showed up at the right moment for our entree order. Then, it happened. Jerry had found found the mother lode As a matter of fact, I would like to nominate the Rural Jer for the Fine Dining International Guru of the Menu award.  Good luck to him for his sure-to-come  accolades).  There was a pick three option.  It was on. I ordered the pinto beans, hot slaw with bacon and a side salad. The food was on point. There was an abundance of flavor, and the boom boom sauce topped everything off with precision.  Other options included creamed peas, fried cabbage and cole slaw. They even have coconut soup.

I am so glad the Chinese buffet was closed on Mondays. Christine’s is amazing. You should stop by and get your fill.

The Bread Basket

 

My friend Ryan picked me up before the sun had risen. He was taking me to breakfast, and introducing me to one of his friends.  You might not know Ryan, but he always has the best in store for his friends.  He has this way of always blessing others.  When he turned on Tennessee Street, I realized that this morning was going to be amazing.  The Bread Basket is located in an old house not too far off the square in beautiful downtown Danville, IN.  We entered the restaurant like everyone else through the back door and had to mosey through the kitchen.  If there was ever any doubt about Ryan’s knack for the noshing, all of that escaped into the parking lot through the door as it closed.  We wove our way past the cooler and the display case (cinnamon rolls, pies, etc) and found a nice seat at a table large enough for the friendship and the coming feast. I do not need to expound on the merits of their homemade bread.  You simply need to order it, eat it, and then purchase a loaf for any of your unlucky friends and family members that were not able to break bread with you at the restaurant.

I ordered the salmon omelet that morning. Come on, man!  Dill cream cheese, smoked salmon, tomatoes and sautéed onions.  You just can’t go wrong with that menu, and their hot tea is out of this world. It will be served in a small iron teapot, and you’ll enjoy every sip. As a matter of fact, the market spice is one of the best teas I have ever had.  There was so much cinnamon in that tea that I had to go and ask my waitress if she had added sugar to the mix. She had not, and it did not need it.

Load up the family, or a friend or two and make your way to Danville.  You’ll be glad you did, and so will all the wonderful ladies at the Bread Basket.

Monk’s Kitchen

Harrison, Ohio

We were a few minutes behind, and finally decided that we should stop and eat before getting to our afternoon graduate class.  We saw a sign for a Mexican restaurant and got off the interstate on Dry Fork Road in Harrison, OH.  We were turning right when we saw it.  The place was Monk’s Kitchen, and everything about it was calling our name.  It is a cool building with some nice signage that says if you like local, you should eat here. I had exited there a number of times before, but somehow this little gem had escaped my perusal.  As we entered the building, John was at the register and made us feel as welcome as a regular.  The Monk in the logo on the rug caught my eye, and then I saw the sandwich pictures that lined the walls with the menu.  The restaurant also had some other nice decorations, along with some wonderful, creative advertisements for their catering business.  I was in full hypnosis mode as I walked around gazing at all of the goodies (like their amazingly tantalizing cookiewiches, made with homemade filling).  I should mention that Monks is also the home of Angilo’s Pizza.  John assured me that he had a pizza that he could serve on thin crust that would light me up. I will definitely call ahead for that delicacy in the future, but that particular Monday was meant for the bread in those pictures.  I let John choose a spicy chicken sandwich with peppers and onions. As we were waiting for the food in the dining area, complete with old video games, John informed me that the flatbread is an old Cherokee recipe. Monk’s is definitely a stop worth making, and it will be a regular for me.

(BTW, the restaurant is named Monk’s because the original owner’s partner disappeared many years ago.  The partner went to the man’s father’s funeral, hoping to see his friend. He looked up and noticed his former partner in full habit, and named the restaurant in his honor.)

Shapiro’s Delicatessen

 

When it comes to breakfast sandwiches, there is none better. I have traveled this land, and even had a breakfast buffet in Banja Luka, Bosnia. There is nothing that compares to what Jennifer Aguilar can whip up for you at the downtown Shapiro’s Delicatessen right here in Indianapolis. There is no reason to search the world over. Like Survivor sang in 1985, in their hit song “The Search is Over” that peaked at #4 on the billboard charts, “…love was with me all the while.” I went in one day and informed her that I would like a surprise sandwich. I usually either get rye or wheat bread, sometimes a piece of each, and then let her have her magical way with the rest of the ingredients. I don’t know how she does it. It seems impossible to construct the monstrosities that she is able to create, and still maintain structural integrity. I don’t think she has a degree in engineering, but she deserves one. Each sandwich ends up being better than the last, if only for its creative merit alone. They include the likes of beef bacon, turkey bacon, turkey, eggs, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pastrami and who knows what else. You can trust Jennifer to treat you right and Shapiro’s to never disappoint when it comes to the sandwich. Their iced tea also happens to hit the spot, even at breakfast. If Wheaties is the breakfast of champions, then Shapiro’s serves the breakfast of aristocrats.

Jarrety’s Place

It was early morning, and I had just purchased some coffee, but those words that Beth had said were ringing in my ears. It was a simple instruction, but it came from a lady that just happens to be one of the best cooks I have ever met. She is a guru of the kitchen, and a queen of the recipes. People practically knock her door down for those cinnamon rolls. She had said, “You need to go to Jarrety’s!” So, Before I knew it, I had walked into Jarrety’s Place a block or so north of the Fulton County Courthouse in lovely downtown Rochester, IN. I was impressed with the space and quickly found my way to a table. It wasn’t long before I was enjoying one of their most popular sandwiches called the Huevos. I asked for the wheat bread (btw, it’s Aunt Millie’s Low Carb Wheat), but left everything else as it comes. It is served with eggs, black beans, corn, bacon, habanero jack cheese and chipotle mayonnaise. It was fantastic. I then tested their famous loaded potato soup. I understand from whence it’s fame was derived. I also tried their shrimp and corn chowder which will not disappoint you. I then bellied up to some of their superslaw made with kale, broccoli, carrots and their special dressing. Everything that came out of that kitchen was worthy of the most serious of noshing. The bagels looked amazing and the sandwiches were mouthwatering, whether on the current menu or available by prior knowledge and the blessing of a great waitress. Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the No sugar added Flirt Mudslide Frappe. I will not even attempt to use words to define its decadence. Rochester is blessed to have such a jewel of restaurant, and the patrons, as well as the staff will treat you right.

Ali’s Steak and Lemonade

Ali’s Steak and Lemonade at 25th and College is nestled between a wireless store and a convenient store behind the Citgo gas pumps. Ali is the owner and they have a $9.99 Super Philly special that comes with fries and a lemonade. There simply cannot be many better steak sandwiches West of South Street in Philadelphia. For you purists, you will not get any Cheese Whiz, but I don’t think you’ll miss it either. They have great mayonnaise, quality peppers, tomatoes, onions and provolone cheese. The fries can be sprinkled with your choice of lemon pepper or seasoned salt. The bread is also thrown on the grill, and heated perfectly. Don’t be fooled, either, because not all Steak and Lemonade restaurants are the same. Many of them never get that bread close enough to the grill. There’s not much more of a let down than preparing to bite into a pedestrian bun that was taken straight from a bag. Ali has a wonderful spirit, as do all of his employees, and he knows how to price his products. My daughter recognized that you could get ten macaroni and cheese bites for only $2.99. You already know that we ordered some, and they too hit the spot. I had told Ali that I had to be careful on my bread intake, and he said that he wanted me to see the Chicken Philly salad that they were making. I told him that that was not necessary and ordered a Steak Philly salad for only $5.99. It came with pickles, giardinera, jalapeños and hot banana peppers. I could eat that salad everyday. You simply cannot go wrong with their menu. Enjoy, and don’t forget to say shukran.

The Big Lug

 

You pull into the parking lot, and realize immediately that someone has got some serious taste and class.  The building itself invites you in the door.  The logo is brilliant and whisks through those days of yesteryear out on the trails of the mountains of the American West.  You remember how good, cold and refreshing the water is from a glacial stream when you used to ingurgitate from a southwestern-themed, wool-covered canteen.  As you enter the restaurant, the bright colors and modern graphics grab your attention. The booths are on the right, as you turn the corner, and my wife asked where we should sit.  I looked up, and there was Jesus from The Big Lebowski, and our seat was chosen.

The menu arrived at the table, and it was a full color onslaught of beauty, creativity and everything I could have wanted to eat for the next few weeks.  I even told Melissa that we might just want to rent a booth and move in.  I must stop for a minute and simply say that if you have ever liked cauliflower, and appreciate the joy it can bring when it is deep fried in spicy garlic sauce—I hope someone is reading the rest of this to you as you drive to the Big Lug. (Btw, if they are not currently open, you should stop reading until they are open and you can acquire some of this goodness for yourself.)

They have Nashville chicken, Italian beef sandwiches and a host of hamburgers, but their salads are where it’s at (yes, they come complete with two turntables and a microphone).  My eyes were drawn to the Hot Chop.  This salad has a sport pepper pesto, giardinera, pistachios, fresh basil and green tomatoes.  My wife interrupted my crooning to remind me that there was no meat on that salad.  No worries.  They sell Nashville hot wings, and they offer them in spicy garlic.

Their special menus are based off of pop culture, and the creativity is boundless. This is a fun place, with great servers, and I look forward to the next time I can drop by and enjoy their next offering.

Romanda’s

Where are you currently? Are you in Indianapolis? You might be in Virginia, or even in North Carolina. Well, you should be in Converse, IN, if it is between 7AM and 3PM. Rob and Amanda recently opened their Romandas restaurant on Jefferson Street in the old Essenhaus/Rickner’s Essenhaus building. The first day I wandered in they were still only serving breakfast. I ordered the Porky (an omelette with bacon, pulled pork, ham and sausage). Some people might think that an omelette is an omelette is an omelette, but they would be wrong. I dare you to find a more magnificent gathering of swine offerings. Romanda’s is a farm to fork restaurant, and that omelette comes with Rob’s home fries that will make you want to bring a sleeping bag or a hammock next time, because his special batter/seasoning on those fries will keep you coming back for more.

They are now open for lunch. They focus on burgers and wings, and we will talk about those in a minute. I feel like there might be some vegetarians wondering if there is something in this for them. Most vegetarians I know love a good grilled cheese. Rob’s grilled cheese includes 8 slices of cheese. Come on, man! And, if it’s in season, do yourself a favor and get some fried green tomatoes drizzled with a little garlic aioli. You will be glad you did.

He’s got burgers like the Teriyaki, the Reuben, the Cordon Bleu and a Pizza burger to name a few. But, my oh my, those wings. The first ones I tried were the Sriracha Lime. I then tried the Faceburner. I even tasted other sauces like Brown Sugar Bourbon, but time stood still when I tried the Salt and Vinegar. I love wings as spicy as they can come, but that Salt and Vinegar stopped the train without the need for a brakeman. I had a friend try one, and the people at the table laughed as they saw the sheer wonder on his face. He then replied, “he (Rob) might have just transformed the wing!” There are new flavors being added regularly, and you simply will not find a better wing.

Rob and Amanda will treat you right. Stop in and enjoy. I’ll probably be there.

Egg Roll #1, Pho #1

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Bellydiving is all about finding and enjoying the local and regional restaurants. We love to meet the owners and experience their passion for their style and for their particular delicacies. In all of my years of eating Asian food, I don’t know that I have ever found a nicer group of people than the owner and employees at Egg Roll #1, Pho #1 just off the interstate on Emerson Avenue in Beech Grove. They always greet you with joy as you walk in the door. If you turn to the right as you enter, you will be met by a wall of menu pictures. Each successive picture adds fuel to the flame of your appetite, and if you are like my friend Josh, you might end up with 4 meals, an appetizer and some Vietnamese iced coffee. I must admit that I might have been caught with more than one meal on an occasion or two myself.
The Pho Thai is downright amazing, and can be made extra spicy upon request. Their breaded chicken is out of this world and the coffee made with sweetened condensed milk and Cafe du Monde blend coffee with chicory is almost a necessity on every visit. It only takes a moment to become family at this restaurant, and there’s nothing like family. I’ll meet you there tomorrow at 11:01.  We’ll sit in the corner.

 

 

 

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Amazing Joe’s Grill

I was sitting at la casa de Josh and he was reading off the menus of a couple of restaurants that we had never experienced. Little did we know that it was going to be 4 hours and 43 minutes until the delicacies were going to grace our lips and satisfy the cravings of all those pent up fleeting visions of how something so magnificently described with words could actually morph into reality. We finally waltzed into Amazing Joes on the river and just off the Ball State campus in Muncie under the cover of darkness. We turned the corner into our 3-walled nook and Kait served up some sample peanut slaws that started the engines and whetted the appetite for the treasures that were about to be delivered to the table. Hailey ordered fried pickles, and they were most definitely on point. She also chose the chicken Mac and Cheese. I know what you’re thinking. Why would anybody choose Mac and Cheese When burgers had been on the brain for hours? You need to just leave Hailey alone, because she might be starting a tradition. That Mac and Cheese was slammin’. The only thing Hailey did wrong was only eat six bites. The rest of us ordered what we had been dreaming of since its description was first proclaimed from the leather couch on the south side of the living room. The Fugedaboutit comes complete with Angus beef, mozzarella sticks, steak-cut fries, onion rings, bbq sauce, cheese, bacon and a fried egg. There’s only one bad thing about thie burger…the experience ends way too soon. I would put this burger up against anyone’s culinary attempt to make a better burger. Pair it with the peanut slaw and you cannot go wrong. There is a rumor that an Amazing Joes might open a new location in Indianapolis. I would like to offer my house as a potential location.